Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

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Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by KathyinFlorida on Tue Jan 02, 2018 11:12 PM

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My husband is in week 4 of radiation for stage 1 cancer of his right vocal chord.  I have so much to be thankful for that it was caught early.

He has been experiencing a hacking, phlem-y cough since week 3 that just never quits.  It scares us both bc the doctor never told us to expect it and seems rather matter of fact about the whole thing.

I wonder whether anyone out there has had this reaction to radiation of the throat.  It really sounds like he is getting worse each week and the constant heaving is weakining him quite a bit.

Many thanks for any shared experiences.

I wish each and every one of you a blessed and strong new year.

Kathy

RE: Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by Loves2Fly on Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:00 AM

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Hi Kathy,

I am so sorry you and your husband are going through this.

Phlem is a big problem for H&N patients in treatment. In part, as saliva glands are being affected, there is nothing to water down phlem. The saliva glands in the lower jaw provide "watery" saliva which helps in swallowing and thinning phlem. Gargling with warm baking soda water or just water, (several times an hour) is helpful to break up the phelm. Sleeping in a more upright position sometimes helps too (at least 30 degrees). 

The phlem usually gets worse, I am sorry to say, until several weeks after treatment ends. Then it often gradually gets better. 

Make friends with any nursing staff or aids in the office. They seem to have the tips and tricks to help, and will help on a more personal basis. I found them much more help than the doctors - one of which, when my husband was telling him of dryness issues suggested we just "go to Hawaii". All the miserable side effects are in the fine print, but I found more help asking here for day to day issues.

Hoping he (and you) find relief.

RE: Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by Sdurnell on Wed Jan 03, 2018 07:10 AM

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Kathy,

As the previous answer mentions, the thick mucus that appears late in or after radiation is very common.  The body is trying to protect the damaged tissues and this is one way it copes, unfortunately.  A mix of baking soda and salt in warm or lukewarm water can help cut it, and it also helps with any mouth sores (mucositis).  One of its benefits is that you can do it as often as you like.

I also found that drinking ginger ale was helpful sometimes, and it was something I could stand the taste of the longest.  I liked it room temperature best.

I had bad mucus for about a month.  As you probably know, the effects of radiation keep getting worse for a couple of weeks after the rad sessions themselves are over, so expect the mucus to last until then.  It also helps to sleep with the head elevated or sitting up, and to keep tissues and a receptacle for them handy at all times.

It is frustrating to me that so many patients are not properly prepared for the side effects that they will likely experience.  Maybe the thinking is that they don't want to scare folks off of radiation, when it's the best, and often the only, way to cure H&N cancer.  But I don't think it's right to let people worry so.

Best of luck to both of you--caregivers need special care too!

Susan

RE: Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by KathyinFlorida on Wed Jan 03, 2018 03:19 PM

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Hi Love2Fly...I can't believe the doctor suggested going to Hawaii--but I can definitely imagine it!  Nurses seem to be more in touch with the day to day challenges and it appears the gargling (ours suggested salt water) is how my husband attempts to deal with the hacking.  I will ask her today if baking soda, which you reminded me about and which she also suggested, might be a bit better for diluting the phlegm.

I appreciate your taking time to reach out and feel a lot better knowing that this may continue but is a normal side effect.

Thank you :)

RE: Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by KathyinFlorida on Wed Jan 03, 2018 03:33 PM

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Hi Susan...Thank you for a clear explanation of why this mucous shows up to begin with.  I guess if it is a protective mechanism, I will conside it to be a friend.

We were told about the sore throat, tough time swallowing, skin redness, fatigue and diminished appetite but when this cough appeared over the holiday weekend, it was very scary.

The doctor explained not everyone gets a cough so that is why he did not prepare us, but I am more on the side of forewarned is forearmed.  I totally agree better education by the doctor/nurse from the start as to the exact process and concommitant side effects would be so helpful.  The last thing someone battling this disease should have to deal with is fear that they are getting worse, not better.  

I appreciate your compassion and clarity.

I feel I have a community around me that I can reach out to which is very comforting.  I hope to be able to pay the kindness foward.

Kathy

RE: Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by jmcdevit on Wed Jan 03, 2018 03:50 PM

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Best of luck Kathy to you and your husband.  Unfortunately the symptoms will continue to get worse before they get better.  Diet ginger ale and the baking soda rinse worked for me.  Try getting the powered Gatorade, you can mix it with water to find the right consistency.  I still carry this with me on a daily basis. Also, make sure he does his swallowing exercises religiously.  I'm 9 months out from my surgeries, radiation and chemo.  Every month is better than the last.

John

RE: Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by KathyinFlorida on Thu Jan 04, 2018 08:18 PM

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Hi John,

I am so glad you are finding some relief...and I really appreciate the diet ginger ale and baking soda rinse idea.  Do you gargle with it?

His nurse prefers salt water gargles to baking soda, but he just can't sleep for all the coughing, so I think there is something to this baking soda.  It can only help.

I will say one thing...the petty work annoyances have found a much smaller place in our lives because of this.  We have been pushed into a much needed sense of perspective, and thankfulness.

Wishing you only the best and a speedy recovery,

Kathy

RE: Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by jmcdevit on Thu Jan 04, 2018 09:01 PM

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I gargled with it.  Anything which contains salt will help.  Also, try to make sure your room humidity is over 50%.  I bought a room humidifier and it seemed to help my sleeping.  Melatonnin (sp) is a natural sleep aid, may take 2-3 weeks to get used to it.

RE: Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by hisprincesstoo on Fri Jan 05, 2018 01:21 AM

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I also found coconut oil after each treatment helped the phlem a bit, at least helped the sore throat.  Also Biotine Jel, though I did try many other mout dryness remidies, this one was the only one that continued during treatment.  It has a mild flavor that didn't irritate the throat any further.  Water also became my friend, and toward the end of treatment, these and the baking soda rinses were the only things that went down my throat.  I tried soda and salt, salt alone, at different temperatures, but I found only soda worked (mind you, not much soda in a lot of water) at room temp was tolerated.  

I must also let you know, I went into it with a full knowledge of potential side effects, well, at least the more common ones before choosing treatment.  I can't say it helped me, but gave me an appreciation as some of those didn't show up, or went away quicker than expected.  Some of the long term effects were the things that did surprise me.  I found this group quite early so I also had a great place to gather any information I needed.  This is a wise and caring group.  

take care and best wishes

- I'm not far from Seattle myself.  

RE: Phlegm-y, Hacking Cough - So scared...

by hisprincesstoo on Fri Jan 05, 2018 01:23 AM

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oops, I posted the seattle comment to the wrong post.  sorry about that.  ;)

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